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Tom Crawford (US) - Go with the Workflow: Database Development Tools for a New Generation

As any database manager knows, it’s not about the data, it’s about what you can do with the data that matters. Business users depend on data not as bits and bytes, but as essential elements in the workflows that add up to business decisions. So when it comes to SQL queries and procedures, database managers should be able to work within systems that help speed up those workflows, rather than serving as roadblocks to efficiency.

My colleagues Tristan Atkins and Sue Harper recently wrote about exploiting the power of a database. In his post, Tristan Atkins references a recent blog entry from Teradata executive and all-around SQL guru George Coleman, who offered a visual history of database programming logic. Sue Harper’s article directs readers to a video explaining some of the capabilities of Microgen DBClarity Developer. Both of these articles point to an absolutely critical, but often overlooked, element of successful database management: visuals.

Seeing is Collaborating

In an age where “business/IT collaboration” has become somewhat of a cliché, the reality is that database managers work more closely with business intelligence and customer information management staff than ever before. The pressure of Big Data has been a key factor in blurring the lines between IT and business users even further as senior executives seek to harness data in new and creative ways to make smarter business decisions.

As a result, business and IT users have to interact within the same virtual environments to manage data through workflows effectively and efficiently. The most effective environments provide a highly visual interface that both mimics familiar project management and business process management environments and allows for users to interact simultaneously to move and manipulate data from one part of the enterprise to another.

Curiously, most database developer tools lack capabilities such as a graphical, icon-based interface for creating rules and workflows; drag-and-drop capabilities for creating new routines and defining process rules; and an overall look and feel that is intuitive and familiar to both IT and business users.

Collaborating is Working Efficiently

In the enterprise, “collaboration” is sometimes a four-letter word. This is especially true in instances at a business-IT crossroads, where the objectives of an IT organization and the objectives of another function such as Business Intelligence sometimes seem at odds. This is also true in large, complex global businesses, where workflows can involve dozens of people across multiple functional areas with a variety of objectives.

In these types of enterprises, it is all the more important to implement a data management infrastructure that is designed to fit the needs of the entire organization, not just the needs of a select group. This may sound like an impossible task given the number of players that can be involved in any given implementation, but it’s actually quite straightforward: when decisions are being made about IT systems that support data management, the conversation must concern not just the “speeds and feeds” that link one system to another, but also the strategic business objectives being served by the solution.

Making Collaborative Data Management a Reality

Effective collaboration in the database environment is ultimately about people – starting with champions on both the business executive and IT support teams, right through to SQL administrators and business intelligence analysts. But the systems themselves are the other side of the coin, and it’s absolutely critical to have the right tools in place to support the objectives agreed by upon business and technical users.

To assess whether a solution or system will support an enterprise’s data workflow management needs, keep the following questions in mind:

•    What is the workflow that this system will support? With whom does the workflow begin, and with whom does it reach completion?

•    How many users – business and IT – can effectively work within the system at any given time?

•    How flexible is the system in terms of the ability to create and modify rules?

•    Is the interface engaging, intuitive and visual?

•    Is it efficient? Can you run queries and process information in-database to reduce I/O time and the risk of manual errors?

•    What contingencies does the solution have? Is it open enough to work on a variety of platforms?

•    How easy is it to deploy and maintain?

It isn’t easy to change a siloed data management culture into a collaborative one, but it can be done with the right systems, a strategic mindset and executive leadership from both the business function and IT support group.

By Tom Crawford, SVP for Microgen North America


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